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Virginia Tech professor honored for international mine-safety work

By Liz Crumbley

Spectrum Volume 21 Issue 01 - August 27, 1998

Malcolm McPherson, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering, has been elected a foreign member of the Polish Academy of Sciences in recognition of his more than 30 years of international work to improve mining safety.
McPherson, who came to Virginia Tech in 1992 as the Massey professor and eminent scholar in the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering, began working on mining-safety and health issues in 1965 while working on his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham in England.
A native of Scotland, McPherson worked as a miner and rescue brigadesman in coal mines before becoming a college student in England. From 1965 through the 1970s, while he taught at Nottingham, he spent time in Poland and other Eastern European countries researching mining-safety problems. His specialty is mine ventilation, and his work has resulted in new design methodologies and changes in mining legislation in a number of countries.
When engineers began using computers to solve design problems in the mid-1960s, McPherson helped develop software to predict the airflow in networks of mine airways. This has had a dramatic effect on the design of such systems, improving the quality of mine environments and preventing explosions. Modern versions of the software are used by mining industries throughout the world.
"Much engineering planning and design is rather routine," McPherson said. "I've always liked to work on the unusual problems." This has led to his parallel activities in academia and industry. McPherson has consulted on mining-safety issues in Australia, Canada, Europe, India, South Africa, South America, the United Kingdom, and United States.
In 1981 he joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley. While there, he founded Mine Ventilation Services, Inc.
McPherson has been accorded numerous honors in recognition of his work in mining engineering, including gold medals from the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy of the U.K. and the Mine Ventilation Society of South Africa, and the H.L. Hartman Award from the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration in the U.S.
In June, McPherson was slated to receive his diploma of membership in the Polish Academy of Sciences during a reception at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, D.C.